Materials Tracking and Tracing Standard and Guidelines

RT-384 Topic Summary
RT 384


An upstream materials tracking and tracing capability allows vendors and suppliers to share materials and production status and information seamlessly with key project stakeholders. Tracking materials and production progress and transferring updates to owners, contractors, and subcontractors promises to greatly improve supply chain visibility and construction efficiency, and thus to positively affect craft labor productivity, budgets, and schedules. Despite the promise of upstream materials tracking, however – and since industry efforts have mostly been limited to tracking materials on project sites – owners and contractors need planning and implementation guidance to increase the visibility of materials within their supply chains.

To address this need, CII chartered Research Team 384 (RT-384) to investigate upstream materials tracking and tracing. While materials tracking aims at gathering the location and status of an item by means of auto-ID technologies (e.g., barcode, RFID, QR codes, Bluetooth), tracing aims at collecting and sharing the digital thread of information on the item spanning back to its production and inclusive of certifications, test reports, transaction history, or vendor and supplier records.

During its research, RT-384 determined that adding onsite materials to the scope of its research would result in more comprehensive research deliverables and enhance their impact on project team performance. Thus, the research team explored strategies and documented resources for upstream and onsite tracking and tracing of materials (including parts, components, and equipment) by surveying and interviewing subject matter experts and practitioners.

RT-384 documented four construction functions that directly benefit from materials tracking and tracking: automated material transactions, onsite material searches, craft labor productivity, and construction operations. The possible benefits of improved tracking and tracing include discouraging legal actions among key stakeholders and improving the chances of future business agreements.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Tracing the Digital Information Thread – A Novel Opportunity

Like two sides of the same coin, tracking and tracing should be regarded as two complementary and fundamental aspects of a digital materials function. Construction professionals have mostly limited their practice to tracking the status and location of material components on the site – tracing and sharing the information of a component spanning back to its production is rarely leveraged. RT-384 found anecdotal evidence that tracing and sharing the full digital information thread of a component can positively affect receiving, installation, commissioning and startup, and operations and maintenance (FR-384, p. 2).

Reference: (FR-384)

2 : What Is Upstream Tracking?

Upstream tracking and tracing (“upstream tracking” in brief) aims at proactively communicating production, shipment, and delivery information and updates from vendors and suppliers to project stakeholders. It also encompasses communicating warnings when issues arise, such as fabrication delays. RT-384 defines upstream tracking as, “the capture, communication, and sharing of material status and information from vendors and suppliers to the project team (FR-384, p. 1).

Reference: (FR-384)

3 : Barriers to and Enablers of Upstream Tracking

The research team surveyed industry practitioners to identify the barriers to and enablers of upstream tracking:

     Top Barriers:
  • Lack of financial resources to facilitate the adoption of tracking and tracing technologies by the project team
  • Difficulty for project management teams, owners, and vendors and suppliers to predict a clear ROI for adopting tracking and tracing
  • Upfront technology costs
     Top Enablers:
  • Demonstration of improved safety
  • Owners as implementation champions
  • Demonstration of a positive ROI
  • Demonstration of improved craft labor productivity
  • Demonstration of improved productivity for vendors and suppliers

The survey found that the perception of upstream tracking as a questionable investment is a major standing barrier for owner, contractor, and vendor and supplier organizations alike (see Figure 1) (FR-384, p. 19).

Figure 1. Difficulty to Predict a Clear ROI for Adopting Upstream Tracking

SMEs interviewed by the research team emphasized the benefits of tracking and tracing. When properly planned and implemented, upstream tracking often provides an ROI of multiple times the investment costs. In order to alleviate the negative perceptions, the SMEs recommended meeting with hesitant project teams and managers to resolve their questions and walk them through the implementation steps. In order to provide clarity, RT-384 documented four construction functions with evidence of a direct cost-benefit from tracking and tracking: automated material transactions, onsite material searches, craft labor productivity, and construction operations.

Reference: (FR-384)

4 : A Digital Materials Model

A digital materials model emerged from the team’s analysis of SME interviews on project experiences with remarkable materials tracking and tracing functions both upstream and onsite. During the analysis, common themes emerged and led to the definition of 43 strategies. The strategies are grouped into 10 functions, which at the same time are divided into four sequential implementation stages: consultation, requests for proposals, upstream tracking and tracing, and onsite tracking and tracing (see Figure 2). With input from SMEs, the team weighted these strategies (FR-384, p. 7).

Figure 2. Digital Materials Model

Reference: (FR-384)

5 : Implementation Guidance with Maturity Definitions

For each strategy, the Digital Materials Model defines four levels of implementation maturity (see Figure 3) (FR-384, p. 46):
  1. Level 1 or very poor – major deficiencies
  2. Level 2 or poor – moderate deficiencies
  3. Level 3 or good – minor deficiencies
  4. Level 4 or very good – complete (or nearly complete) implementation

Figure 3. Maturity Level Definitions from the Digital Materials Model

RT-384 intended for these definitions to guide industry organizations in their tracking and tracing journey, regardless of their level of knowledge and expertise, and to drive the model’s progressive implementation.

Reference: (FR-384)

6 : Maturity Assessment Tool and Score

The team incorporated its research findings into a Maturity Assessment Tool. This computer-based tool evaluates the digital materials' readiness against the digital materials model (see Key Finding #4). The tool leverages the relative weights in the model to compute a unified maturity score for a project. Alternatively, the maturity of one or more implementation stages can be independently evaluated. The tool generates a report that identifies leverage areas and corresponding actions to enhance further the maturity of the tracking and tracing function (see Figure 4) (FR-384, p. 18).
Figure 4. Maturity Report from the Digital Materials Model
Reference: (FR-384)

7 : Tracking and Tracing Subcomponents

Whenever complex components (e.g., pumps, turbines, compressors), packages, or construction modules are to be digitally tracked, their subcomponents must also be tracked. Teams must establish a logical relationship among tracking devices that replicates the dependency between components and subcomponents, for example, through parent-child or one-to-many relationships (see Figure 5). This dependency is often replicated in the selection of tracking technology devices, for instance, by dedicating more expensive resources to tracking the main component(s) (FR-384, p. 38).

Figure 5. Maturity Report from the Digital Materials Model
Reference: (FR-384)

8 : Potential Impacts of Tracking and Tracing across the Project Life Cycle

RT-384's analysis of both surveys and interviews highlighted the potential of materials tracking and tracing to improve the entire life cycle of a project. SMEs spoke of the positive impacts from sharing and integrating a digital thread of information for every project component, spanning from its production through commissioning and startup to operations and maintenance. For example, the research team collected anecdotal evidence on projects that substantially reduced commissioning and startup completion times by making such digital information available at the fingertips of the commissioning team through portable electronic devices (FR-384, p. 35).
Reference: (FR-384)

Key Performance Indicators

Research Publications

Tracking and Tracing Construction Materials: Guidelines for Upstream and Onsite Implementation - FR-384

Publication Date: 06/2022 Type: Final Report Pages: 64 Status: Tool

Presentations from CII Events

Session - Material Tracking & Tagging: What You Need to Know

Publication Date: 02/2022 Presenter: David Grau Number of Slides: 32 Event Code: JC22

Session - Digitally Tracking and Tracing Construction Materials: Strategies for Upstream and Onsite Implementation

Publication Date: 08/2022 Presenter: Number of Slides: 37 Event Code: AC22